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Students Volunteer, Give $10,000 to Impact Lincoln Community

Business Course Explores Nonprofits, Grants and Giving Back
Students Volunteer, Give $10,000 to Impact Lincoln Community
University of Nebraska–Lincoln students awarded $10,000 in grants to two local nonprofits, Food Fort and WICS Home for Girls, as part of the Strive to Thrive Lincoln project in the Philanthropy and Leadership (MNGT 411) course.

Students at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln College of Business worked hands-on to serve their community through the Philanthropy and Leadership (MNGT 411) course, also known by its project name, Strive to Thrive Lincoln. Leading the grant-awarding process, they gained firsthand insight into the nonprofit world and awarded $10,000 in grants to two local nonprofits – Food Fort and WICS Home for Girls.

Students playing football with elementary students
Students in the Philanthropy and Leadership course volunteered to do service projects with the 10 finalist organizations they considered for two $5,000 grants. This team played football with students at Saratoga Elementary School as part of Food Fort programming.

“We learned about the community we currently call home, its history and current challenges. We gained an appreciation for how nonprofits work and how they compare to the for-profit organizations we typically study at the College of Business,” said Olivia Palmer, senior Clifton Builders management and marketing major from Omaha, Nebraska. “Our class was excited to be able to give back to the Lincoln community in this way.”

Now in its 14th semester, Strive to Thrive Lincoln has allocated $140,000 to Lincoln nonprofits since 2015. Funded by notable Lincoln philanthropist Rhonda Seacrest and the Learning by Giving Foundation, the course enables students to screen, interview and evaluate local nonprofits to choose their grant recipients. This semester, students completed a service project in addition to the site visits with their 10 finalist organizations. They included: Boys & Girls Clubs of Lincoln/Lancaster County, BraveBe Child Advocacy Center, CEDARS Youth Services, Community Action Partnership of Lancaster and Saunders Counties, Food Fort, Leadership Lincoln, Mourning Hope Grief Center, NeighborWorks Lincoln, Wellbeing Initiative, Inc., and WICS Home for Girls.

“When I saw the power of a service project that was coincidentally at an organization under consideration for a grant, I decided to turn our focus to volunteering at the nonprofits we were already researching during the semester,” said Amber Messersmith, lecturer of management, who teaches the course. “This way, you can get a glimpse of what even an hour or two of your time means to the organization. You tend to develop empathy for the organization and those it serves, particularly when you see it in action.”

The class split up and spent time helping in an after-school program, with season-end landscaping clean-up, preparing materials for grieving children to make memory quilts, among other service opportunities. Julia Hansen, a human resource management major from La Vista, Nebraska, built care packages for new arrivals to the WICS Home for Girls while talking with current residents.

students at a site visit
Students (left to right) Lexi Westover, Lindsay Rickers, Ian Harper and Jorge Hidalgo visited with Kate Holman, development director, and Anna Lyman, homeownership director, of NeighborWorks Lincoln to learn more about their organization. Each finalist received site visits and a financial review.

“We helped make baskets for the girls coming in so they had some toiletries like toothbrushes, toothpaste, underwear and socks. It really hit home about how many things I take for granted in my daily life,” she said. “A lot of these girls come in with nothing, and they were just so open with us. We talked about small things like our favorite TV shows and music. I didn’t realize how big an impact I could make by spending an hour with these girls and talking to them about their lives.”

Another group of students played football with youth being served by Food Fort. The activity showed how the nonprofit builds community while addressing food shortages.

“We use food as our avenue to develop relationships with at risk youth who don’t necessarily have adults present in their life to go to for certain things. Our renovated school bus cultivates a family dinner table environment in the streets of neighborhoods whose youth lack that sort of environment within their own home,” said Michaela Akridge, founder and executive director of Food Fort. “Some of the kids we serve still talk about their visit and ask when the guys are coming back to play more football. It’s all about kids coming to hang out, eat dinner and do homework together and building those relationships.”

Jorge Hidalgo, junior management major from Lincoln, Nebraska, believes the course prepares students to live a life of impact after graduation.

“Before joining this class, I wasn’t too sure what a nonprofit was to be honest. I knew their mission was to help people, but I didn’t really know how it functioned or how they worked. With this experience, I understand more of the details and how they function behind the scenes. I think everybody should have a basic understanding of nonprofits so you know how the community works and how to best be part of it.”

Published: December 4, 2023